With winter lingering just a week away, it’s almost time to bid adieu to the fall. Of course, nothing speaks of the autumnal spirit of crisp winds and spectacular foliage than the 70 degree sunshine and swaying palm trees of a late November day in Los Angeles. Here now, on display the spectacular creativity of Los Angeles chefs. The bites might not seem very autumnal, but at least they’re seasonal. Get the “Running Leap” cocktail at the Hollywood Roosevelt’s Spare Room bar for actual autumn flavor (apples, maple, and fallen leaves).
Trev’s Bistro: Maple-Glazed Turkey with Dijon Gravy
Of course, we must first start with yours truly’s Thanksgiving masterpiece. Now for a decade we’ve been using this excellent recipe leading to moist, even exciting turkeys. The maple butter, accented by beautiful marjoram notes, gets rubbed underneath the bird’s skin, one of the more unique experiences of a Thanksgiving morning. The Dijon gravy always ends up stealing the show.
Bäco Mercat: The “Original Bäco”
Josef Centano’s gyro meets flatbread meets taco invention is lunch perfected. The namesake for his flat-out sensational Downtown restaurant is far from the only hit on the dynamic menu, heavy on the vegetable small plates. However, you’d be remiss to skip the “Original” that started it all. Tender, braised, not fatty cubes of pork and beef “carnitas” serve as the platform for what really sets this particular bäco apart– the Salbitxada sauce based on almonds and tomatoes. Don’t miss the “Toron” either with oxtail hash, pickles, and cheddar cheese, or the double mushroom “coca,” a Catalan pizza.
Bäco Mercat: Chocolate Peanut Butter Molden Cake with Fudge and Vanilla Semifreddo
Seriously, how come it seems nobody has served a molten chocolate cake with peanut butter mixed in the liquid chocolate filling before, despite the millions of molten liquid center chocolate cakes at neighborhood bistros nationwide? Inspired one would think from a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, this is as exceptional as it sounds. The cake itself could actually use a tad bit more warmth. Usually these burn your mouth.
Canelé: Deep Dish Quiche Lorraine
Corina Weibel’s powerhouse brunch reaches its pinnacle with this pitch-perfect, delicate slice of quiche. Studded with no shortage of ham hocks, everything from the quivering custard to the buttery, flaky crust is just how you imagine the perfect quiche in a small Alsace village should be. I never had a quiche in Strasbourg of this caliber.
Ink: BBQ Beef Short Rib/ Horseradish Tofu/ Carrot/ Tendon
Michael Voltaggio’s tour de force Wagyu beef preparation is truly a work of art; visually and culinary speaking. Even the carrot is of a silky texture. The meat itself is poinsettia-red, looking like a well marbled filet ready for a sukiyaki cooking dunk in hot oil. Except, it’s already cooked, just perfectly rare. The pristine beef is ready for the grand stage, shared by the chicharrones- evoking, whispy horseradish tofu crisps.
Ink: Apple/ Caramel/ Walnut/ Burnt Wood Ice Cream
Autumn’s official dessert and Voltaggio’s signature dessert. Something you’d expect at El Bulli, burnt wood (a taste sensation similar to maple) ice cream and nitro frozen burnt wood sabayon melt onto a crême caramel that doesn’t taste far from Pizzeria Mozza’s butterscotch budino base, with candied walnuts, dehydrated- peeled apples bursting with cider, and a maple streusel for a masterpiece of textures and fall comfort. Absolutely magnificent in every aspect, a clear master on display.
Maison Giraud: Pain au Chocolat
In France, it’s the butter that’s the secret to a worthwhile pain au chocolat. You don’t want too much grease on your hands, but you do want the tan colored shards of the pastry. What they don’t do often enough in France is the chocolate part of the pastry, usually just a thin strand or two in the center. That is where Alain Giraud has lifted the pain au chocolat to another level. He doesn’t skimp on the chocolate spread. Oh, and the pastry choux is every bit on par of the ones at Pierre Hermé on Rue Bonaparte.
Pizzeria Mozza: Pizza with Coach Farm Goat Cheese, Leeks, Scallions, Garlic, and Bacon
Pick your favorite at Mozza–mine’s usually is the pie with rapini, anchovies, olives, cherry tomatoes, and chiles. It could also be one with a soft poached egg, guanciale, escarole, radicchio, and bagna cruda. Recently, I was blown away by the less salt-driven, calmer toppings combination with the creamy, almost smoky goat cheese, the crisp bacon nubs, and most importantly, velvety soft leeks. Leeks deserve more acclaim. Whatever pie you choose, it’s sure to have a pork product on it and Nancy Silverton’s superb charred crust that should be sold in bakeries.
Pizzeria Mozza: Butterscotch Budino with Maldon Sea Salt and Rosemary Pine Nut Cookies
It’s startling to say with the superb pizzas, but the most memorable part of any meal at Pizzeria Mozza always is the dessert. That’s close to common knowledge now. The butterscotch budino by Dahlia Narvaez is possibly the city’s iconic dessert, mostly consisting of luscious caramel pudding, with a thin layer of caramel sauce, a dollop of whipped cream that helps cut the sauce’s sugary bite, and a crowning sprinkle of sea salt. Here, the salted caramel sensation of sweet and savory is an achievement that has been replicated the world over. I was just perusing a dessert menu for a well-known Portland, Oregon Italian restaurant. Their butterscotch budino even is credited to Pizzeria Mozza.The sensation continues with the petite cookies that you wish could be a dessert on their own. Make sure to also get the bittersweet chocolate tartufo with Narvaez’s other signature: olive oil gelato.
Proof Bakery: Canelé
The classic Bordeaux region pastry in all its regal glory is on display at Atwater Village’s beloved, impossibly cute bakery. This version is just a touch more custardy on the interior, the beeswax exterior glaze a little sweeter, and the whole just a pinch more refined than most other renditions. Don’t pass up the Cognoscenti Coffee or the pain au chocolat either.
Ray’s & Stark Bar: Wood Roasted Sunchokes with Sunflower Seed Salsa
Hey, why not let vegetables get their moment in the spotlight? It’s happening everywhere in L.A., from Gjelina in Venice to Bäco Mercat in Downtown. And in between at LACMA’s Joachim Splichal- Patina Group owned restaurant and bar, sunchokes get a gorgeous char, leading to a candy- like sweetness. The salsa verde is beautifully vibrant, aided by the crunch of the salsa. It’s a side dish in a starring role, making you forget the scruffy 1950’s inspired interior by Renzo Piano.
Son of a Gun: Shrimp Toast Sandwich with Herbs and Sriracha Mayo
Almost everything from the brilliant minds of Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (co-owners/ chefs of Animal) could be on this menu. New creations rock an evening at the nautical themed restaurant on West 3rd, including a Texas redfish with kabocha squash, vadouvan, and hazelnut, or a fascinating mash-up of smoked steelhead roe and maple cream, spread together on pumpernickel chips. However, it’s three classic sandwiches that you see on every table: the fried chicken sandwich, the lobster roll, and the most gallant of them all, the Southeast Asia street food favorite of spicy sriracha and tiny shrimp with mayonnaise gushing out of the buttery brioche slices.
Son of a Gun: Apple Pie with Date Ice Cream
Apple pie is…apple pie, right? You know what to expect. Except this is a knockout version, singing with cinnamon and moist, vivid apples. The date ice cream actually is spiced heavily with mustard seed, a twist on the American dessert staple you’ve never seen and should see a lot more now.
Spago: Pumpkin Agnolotti with Amoretti, Sage, and Parmigiano Reggiano
Lee Hefter has a special gift with pastas…after all, “Spago” is an Italian term for spaghetti. A plate full of this Tootsie Roll- shaped dough might be aesthetically dull to the eyes with white sauce on yellow pasta on a tan plate. Fortunately, the pasta itself melts almost in the spoon, textbook precision to the pasta’s filling, tasting clearly of spiced pumpkin. Like all showstopping pastas, there is a certain textural “it” factor here that is impossible to describe, only achievable by the masters.
Spago: Bartlett Pear/ Black Mission Figs, Caramel Bourbon Pain Perdu, Vanilla- Maple Roasted Pear, 50 Bean Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream
Hurry now to try Sherry Yard’s creations at Spago, worth a trip on their own. Most reflective of Yard’s baking prowess was this caramel and bourbon soaked pain perdu (Brioche French toast essentially), with a bottom layer of Bartlett pears and Black Mission figs. Then vanilla and maple roasted pear segments, and raspberries decorate outside the pain perdu centerpiece. How autumnal, how comforting, and yet, how new feeling the dessert is. Yard’s 50 bean Tahitian vanilla ice cream is back from the “old” Spago for the pain perdu and sure isn’t your run of the mill vanilla scoop, with pure vanilla resonating through every sample.
Sycamore Kitchen: Cherry Molasses Cookie
Having enjoyed Karen Hatfield’s desserts several times at the excellent restaurant, Hatfields, she co-owns with husband Quinn ( I preferred the more homey, original bistro version on Beverly Blvd. compared to the grander, formal one now on Melrose), expectations were high for the new bakery- café on La Brea that displays her baked goods on their own. There is no let down here. How in the world do you choose? Sensational, pristine apple galettes or the spot on flourless chocolate brownies with a pinch of sea salt? Begin or end with the cookies, soft the way they should be, robust as one of her haute desserts at the restaurant. Dried cherries and molasses lead this cookie to open new doors of what the humble cookie can be.
Thomas Hills Organics (Paso Robles): Grilled Shrimp Skewers with Zucchini Noodles, Basil, Mint, Cilantro, Avocado, Strawberries, Watermelon, and Green Onion Relish
As my dining partner mentioned, so this is what food really tastes like? So pure, so full of life. Every fruit bursting with juice. Every vegetable exuding precise ripeness. Every herb and spice shining on its own and contributing a vital sparkle to the group as a whole. I’ve never had a composed salad of this nature, everything that the Chez Panisse- Michael Pollan teams stand for. Except here, there is just a little more skip in each ingredient’s step than elsewhere, perhaps since Thomas Hill has its own farm. Or, they just have a magic touch with strawberries and mint. It’s a commanding, gentle display of virDon’t pass up the equally sublime smoked salmon sandwich with sriracha aioli, macerated onions, and sliced avocado on equally stand-out levain bread.
Waterloo & City: Sticky Toffee Pudding with Salted Caramel and Vanilla Ice Cream
For the finale, what better way to end than with a classic rendition of that quintessential English dessert. Who needs the salted caramel of a butterscotch budino when you can just have a good ol’ plain sugar rush. Somehow, this Culver City gastropub always hits the right sticky toffee notes. Start with the wild boar terrine and do explore the excellent beer list. And, you’ll want one of these puddings on your own. Hold out and share with a partner. Do make sure to skip the chalky, unsweetened oatmeal tasting “pumpkin mousse” in a gingerbread- like chocolate crust.